Tuesday, May 6, 2014

52 Ancestors #18 Vernon/Verna/Vern Erwin (1872-1947)


Vernon Erwin in 1947 in Huron Ohio, with granddaughter
Vernon Erwin with granddaughter, 1947, in Huron Ohio
(Note: granddaughter is not named because she is living.)
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This is my 18th post for the “52Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge initiated by Amy Johnson Crow of the “No Story Too Small” blog. For more information about the challenge and links to the other blogs participating in the challenge, please click on the badge in the right margin.

Vernon Erwin is my great-grandfather on my Mom’s mother’s side. He was born on February 15, 1872, in Louisville, Illinois, which is in Clay County. His parents were John Erwin(1841-1917) and Amelia Ann Conley (1847-1915). They had six children including Vernon; the others were: Luella Erwin Baird (1869- abt  1910),  Troy Erwin (1873-1874); Katurah Erwin (1876-1895); Mabel Erwin (1879 - ?aft 3/12/1910), infant Erwin (1883). Only Luella, Vernon, and Mabel lived to adulthood.

Vernon grew up in Louisville, Illinois. His father owned a hardware store and sold farm machinery. His father and three uncles served in the Union Army in the Civil War. Perhaps that is why Vernon  (“Verna”) enlisted in the army on May 10, 1898. He served one year as a private with G company  of the 4th Illinois Infantry, in the Spanish-American War. The 4th Infantry participated in the Battle of El Caney, Cuba and the Seige of Santiago Cuba. For a good description of troop movements, etc., of the 4th Illinois Infantry in that war see: http://scouts87_90.tripod.com/id39.htmlHe was wounded during service, but I don’t know how yet. Later he drew a pension based on his service (pension # C-1 233 759). 


Headstone Application for Military Veterans, Verna Erwin
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It is possible that Vernon suffered from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the war ("Shell shock " or PTSD wasn't recognized as a condition until WWII, before that its effects were likely to get you punished, or killed, for insubordination, while in the Armed Forces,  (based on a book I'm reading about WW1) and seriously screw up one's life after he leaves the Army. PTSD could explain some of Vernon's behavior in the balance of his life.

I’m not sure whether he went home first after discharge but, in the next year, the 1900 census found him in Scappouse, Oregon, (outside of Portland) working as a day laborer.

I lost track of him for 9 years, but by 1909, he was back in Louisville, Illinois. In that year, at age 37, he married my great-grandmother, Fannie Hartman Hart, a widow with four children. I’ve not found an earlier marriage for him to date. This marriage to my great-grandmother did not work out well, although they did have two children: my grandmother, Mabel LeRe Erwin Snyder (1910-1990) and Dale Hart Erwin Crawford Shapiro Spicer Ludwig (1912 - ????) [Note: I’m not actually sure where Ludwig falls in that order other than knowing he’s not first]. According to a letter sent to my Mom from her cousin A (who was doing family history research), Vernon had left Fannie by 1915. Mabel would have been 5 and Dale, 3.

I then lost track of him for fifteen years. I have a few possibilities but no certainties. Sometime in those fifteen years it appears that he and my great-grandmother were divorced. I haven’t found the documentation yet.

1053 Cary Ave, San Pedro CA (the duplex on the right), courtesy of Google Maps
1053 Cary Ave., San Pedro CA is 1/2 of the duplex on the right
Photo courtesy of Google Maps, photo taken 2011
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I remembered my mother’s stories of him living in Los Angeles, California and being a policeman or a detective, and I think I’ve found him again in 1930, at age 58, living in San Pedro, California, (part of Los Angeles) where he is a watchman for a steamship company, and is married to Bertha, who is three years younger than he and also from Illinois (Bertha may have been previously married to another man also with the last name of Erwin, as she was at the same address before my great-grandfather with a man named Burt Erwin, or it could be my great grandfather if he was using a middle name -- I don't know his middle name). The age of this Vern Erwin is dead on, and the census reports he is from Illinois, that he is a veteran and that he fought in the Spanish-American war [“Sp”]. I know that retired policemen often become watchmen or security guards, so it’s plausible. At any rate, having found him in the census, I then found him in the San Pedro City directories at 1053 Cary Av, married to Bertha, and listed as a watchman in 1930 (age 58), 1932 (age 60), and 1937 (age 65). Over the years the city directory spells his first name several different ways. On April 3, 1940, the census finds Vern (68) and Bertha (65) in Elsinore, Riverside, California; his occupation is listed as a detective for the Pinkerton Agency. The 1940 city directory still had him in San Pedro, but at a new address on Neptune Avenue. Vern & Bertha may have moved partway through the year to Elsinore, or they may have been in Elsinore for a few years and Vern may have moved back to San Pedro when Bertha died on September 1, 1940. He was 68 in 1940; Bertha was 66 when she died.

The picture at the top was taken during a visit to his oldest daughter in Huron Ohio, after Bertha died. If the date on the back of the picture is correct, it was taken the year that he died.

Vernon/Verna/Vern died in Los Angeles CA, on November 18, 1947 (the death index notes that his mother’s maiden name was “Conley”, and he was born in Illinois, confirming it is the right person – I have to write off for the death certificate). He is buried is the Los Angeles National Cemetery, a Veterans’ cemetery, at 950 South Sepulveda Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90049, Section 261 Row C Site 11.

Los Angeles National Cemetery
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photo credit: Kevin Baird via photopin - cc



If anyone knows more about Vernon Erwin and is willing to share with mew, please either contact me through my email on the Contact Me page or leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!

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I need to find where Vernon was during the missing years between 1912 -ish and 1930, and try to confirm whether or not he was a police officer.
I want to obtain his military and military pension records.
I also want to obtain/see a copy of his divorce records (from Fannie) and his later marriage record (to Bertha) and/or find out if California ever had common law marriages
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Sources, in general (I have more specific elsewhere): Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011: San Pedro City Directory; US Census for 1880, 1900, 1910, 1930, 1940; Fold3.com; "Illinois, County Marriages, 1810-1934," index, FamilySearch; U.S. Veteran's Grave sites; U.S. Headstone Applications for Military Veterans; California Findagrave.com memorial # 370264; California Death Index.

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